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Empanadas - Meat pies with pizzazz

empanada ready to eat

Many cultures eat filling encased by dough or pastry.  There are samosas, pastels, potstickers, borekas, and many more.  If I call them meat pies, I think of Sweeney Todd and homicidal barbers.  But empanadas, the Spanish-speaking world’s version of this universal type of food, sounds just lovely to me and conjures up visions of delicious morsels hot out of the oven.  I like to eat empanadas for lunch or dinner, with a salad or soup.  No fork required – just need a napkin for wrapping around and you're set to enjoy.

My one note of caution is about eating, not making, empanadas. Be careful if you dig in when they come right out of the oven. These guys are piping hot in the center!  In this respect empanadas are much like pizza for me.  If I’m too anxious to eat, I end up burning the roof of my mouth and vowing to take it more slowly next time – only to forget that promise by the next time I have one straight out of the oven.

My friend Aviva Goldfarb, a cookbook author and CEO of the Six O’Clock Scramble, specializes in simple meals for busy people.  Her recent empanada recipe for families with young children inspired me.  My version is spicier, with the possibility for hot sauce on the side if that suits your taste buds.

This recipe combines sweet and spicy inside, with a light dusting of sugar on top.  You can leave off the sugar, but it does add a nice crunch and contrast to the spices. Even if you find it strange to put olives and raisins in a meat dish, try it.  Although I didn’t include it in this recipe, traditional empanadas often contain chopped or sliced hard-boiled egg, which you can add if you’re feeling adventurous. If you don’t have the spices in your pantry, buy them in small quantities or improvise with what you have.  Here are hints on buying spices.  I didn’t try this recipe with a vegetarian meat substitute, but I would be interested in the results if you do.

For the dough, I used Goya pre-made empanada “discos” from the freezer section of my local ethnic food store.  After you let them defrost f(don't microwave them, just let them sit on the counter until they are slightly flexible) and roll them out slightly, they’re easy to fill.  If you can’t find pre-made empanada discs, you can use refrigerated pie dough cutting each pie round into quarters as Aviva does in her recipe. In that case, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Empanadas

Servings - 6 pastries (2 -3 per person) Total cost - $6.71 for 6/$1.20 per empanada

Ingredients

empanada ingredients
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon oil, preferably olive oil
  • ½ pound ground beef or turkey
  • ¼ cup fresh or canned tomatoes chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • 2-3 dashes (much less than ¼ teaspoon) ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed oregano
  • 2-3 dashes of ground red (cayenne) pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 10 small (or 4-5 large) green olives, sliced (preferably stuffed with red pimentos)
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 6 discs from package of 10 pre-made empanada discos
  • 1 tablespoon milk (or substitute oil) to brush on top of closed empanadas
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar to dust empanadas (on top of milk or oil) before baking
empanada equipment and utensils

Equipment

  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Garlic press (or use back of the knife to press garlic or just chop it)
  • Large pan
  • Large spoon for stirring
  • Smaller spoon for filling empanadas
  • Fork
  • Rolling pin or a can from your pantry
  • Waxed paper
  • Parchment paper or oil for greasing cookie sheet
  • Cookie sheet
  • Pastry brush (or a piece of paper towel) and small bowl for milk glaze
  • Pancake-type turner or other implement to remove empanada from cookie sheet

Preparation

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on the cookie sheet or oil it (to prevent food from sticking) and set it aside.
  • Chop the onion and mash the garlic. Set them aside.
  • Chop the tomatoes and set aside.
  • Slice the olives and set aside.
  • Mix the spices and set aside.
  • Put the oil into the pan and pre-heat the pan.  (Oil should be hot, but not smoking.)
  • Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook 3-5 minutes until the onion is soft and becoming transparent.
empanada onions and garlic cooking.jpg
  • Add the spices and cook for 1 more minute, until the spices are fully combined with the onion and garlic. 
empanada spices cooking.jpg
  • Add the meat and stir it occasionally until fully cooked.  No red or raw meat should be visible.
empanada meat cooking.jpg
  • Add the chopped tomato, olives, raisins and balsamic vinegar.
  • Simmer the mixture (small bubbles on side) for 10 minutes.
  • Let the mixture cool for a few minutes.  Taste it and adjust seasonings.  If you want it to be spicier you can add another sprinkle of red pepper or serve the empanadas with red hot/tabasco-type sauce.
  • Place a dough disc between 2 sheets of waxed paper.  Roll a rolling pin or can over the disc a few times, changing direction each time to keep the shape.  The disc should be slightly larger than its original size, but the same shape.
empanada disc rolled out.jpg
  • Take off the top sheet of waxed paper and place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the disc. 
empanada filling in disc.jpg

Gently fold the disc in half and press the outside edges with the back of a fork to seal the disc into a half circle.

empanada closing the pastry with fork.jpg
  • Place the filled empanadas on the greased or parchment lined cookie sheet, making sure to leave space between them.  Brush them with milk (or oil) and sprinkle lightly with sugar.  I use a pastry brush but dunking a piece of paper towel in a small bowl of milk works too.
empanada pan ready to cook.jpg
  • Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the tops begin to brown.
  • Cool for a few minutes before serving.
empanada pan of finished pastries.jpg

Hint - If your raisins are not plump, you can plump them up by soaking them in hot water. (Heating about a ¼ cup of water in a microwave on high for 1 minute or on the stove until hot but not boiling.) Soak the raisins for 5-10 minutes, then drain them.  I use this method whenever I use raisins or currants, sometimes with juice if the recipe is sweet.

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